Every generation has its great filmmakers. Captivating audiences with their own signature approach, they are empowered by leagues of skilled professionals who remain unknown to the public for the most part though they are renowned within their own community. The name Scorsese possesses such a quality and when Francesca Scorsese (yes, the daughter of that Scorsese) recently followed in her father’s footsteps to create the film Fish Out of Water, her vision was manifested by the great artists in front of and behind the scenes. Set lighting expert Samon Siripanichgon found himself far from his native Thailand on a New York soundstage and was enthused to be a part of this “passing of the torch” moment which has already gained such attention. Until the film’s official premier, almost no information about the plot can be revealed other than it presents a single mother who is offered the chance to reunite with her parents after some point of conflict severed their ties. What can be discussed are aspects of the filmmaking process for this highly anticipated production.
Samon feels that the best description of what he does is “shaping the light.” This can be as varied and nebulous as it sounds. For interiors that present the close quarters one typically finds in New York homes, it means creating warmth while being inventive. Siripanichgon concedes, “A lot of the time, I’m problem solving; trying to construct something around structures already in place like cabinetry in an apartment when we are on location. I spoke extensively with our DP Idil Eryurekli about the lighting plan but there’s always something unexpected. You simply have to do whatever it takes to make things happen for your director and cinematographer.” That’s easier said than done when shooting outside at the mercy of the ever changing New York weather. Samon reinforces that part of his job on this film, as with all productions, is preparing for every possibility.
In terms of camera work, the numerous dolly shots through Fish Out of Water establish a unique feel to the action. There is a classic and traditional sense to the gliding movement as the camera approaches and weaves through the characters. The responsibility for building these dolly’s also fell upon Samon who communicates, “The shooting schedule was ambitious and didn’t leave much time for setting up the shots. I felt that a Dana dolly was best in this scenario. Add to that the fact that we shot in some pretty tight spaces; the Dana dolly’s small footprint was almost a necessity here.”
The audience won’t recognize what type of dolly created the movements of the film or what structures were designed to manifest the perfect lighting, they will simply become lost in the drama of the characters. In the case of Fish Out of Water, the stellar cast includes actors from the iconic Oscar Award–winning film Goodfellas (Welker White), Oscar Award–nominee The Wolf of Wall Street (Stephanie Kurtzuba), Primetime Emmy Award–winning Series Ray Donovan (Steve Witting), and Primetime Emmy–nominated Deadwood: The Movie (Jade Pettyjohn). The gravitas of these actors is consuming. Samon reveals that watching them prepare was as inspiring as the actual on-screen performances. He relates, “They were super dedicated to their craft. When they were on set, they were constantly working through the scenes together and bouncing ideas off of each other. I’m sure, in their experience, our crew was much smaller in size and younger than what they were used to but they still showed the utmost professionalism and patience. When I spoke with Jade Pettyjohn and Steve Witting, I found them extremely down to earth and humble despite their impressive work experience. It’s reassuring to see that everyone on a production has that same desire to create at the highest level no matter what their specific role on set is.”